Cult Heroes No. 17: Venom
Come inside and get in league with Satan. Click here to read all the previous Cult Heroes columns.
Words: Geoff Barton
Before you start reading this latest episode of Cult Heroes, a few words of apology. This was originally intended to be a paean to Geordie gore-hounds Venom, but then it took an unexpected hairpin turn. So perhaps we should retitle this week’s column:
Satanism: Where Did It All Go Wrong?
That thorny – not to mention horny – question came to mind while I was browsing through an old edition of Classic Rock the other day. My attention was caught by a photograph of a flying sheep’s head at a Mayhem gig in Norway, and the accompanying story of distastefully demonic derrings-do. It brought back a distant memory; a hellish recollection.
But we probably need some context here first. So let’s take a little time to talk about the Devil. Now, I’m no expert on sociological behaviour or the workings of the human psyche. And I’m not going get into a theological debate about Good versus Evil. All I know is that there’s more graffiti, scratched train windows and vomit on the kerbside these days. And that at some point in the not too distant past Black Metal changed from being a bit of a larf into something far more sinister and worrisome.
God knows why it happened, but he ain’t tellin’.
You can call me naïve, but to this writer, in a heavy metal context at least, the secret always seemed to be to never take Old Nick too seriously; adopt a Devil-may-care approach, if you will.
My first encounter with any band of a mildly fiendish nature was Black Widow. (I was a bit too young at the time to take in all those early malefic rumblings about Robert Johnson, Jimmy Page and Aleister Crowley, and The Rolling Stones’ so-called occult leanings on albums such as Their Satanic Majesties Request.) I never saw Black Widow play live, but I did buy a 1970 single of theirs called Come To The Sabbat. Then promptly forgot about it.
Later I learned that Black Widow used to hold Black Masses on stage, complete with mock sacrifices and naked dancing witches. But, let’s face it, with a stage show choreographed by a theatre troupe from Leicester, and with a vocalist called Kip, a bass player named Bob and two Clives in the band, how Satanic could Black Widow really have been?
But I guess that early experience fashioned my cavalier approach to Mephistopheles and metal. The two just seemed made for each other; the imagery and the music went claw-in-hand. As pure and simple – or tainted and deadly – as that.
I mean, was there ever anything more ridiculous than seeing Judas Priest in the dock trying to defend the ‘backwards messages’ in their records that were apparently sparking a wave of teenage deaths in the States? If memory serves me correctly, Priest’s 1978 Stained Class album was supposed to contain subliminal phrases such as ‘try suicide’ and ‘let’s be dead’. But the actual courtroom trial (in 1990) centred on the track Better By You Better Than Me and the words ‘do it, do it’ that were meant to have triggered suicidal impulses among impressionable young rockers.
But regardless of the fact that BBYBTM was a cover version of an old Spooky Tooth chestnut, when you heard the song being played backwards on News At Ten it was obvious – even to the expert with the giant ear trumpet sitting beside Trevor McDonald – that instead of ‘do it, do it’ what you heard was ‘mreep-bloop-dreep-beep-mreep’. It sounded like an out-take from an Alvin And The Chipmunks album.
Judas Priest were acquitted of any wrongdoing. And later, when Nike came up with the slogan ‘Just do it’, did anyone even bat an eyelid?
I’m reminded of the time I was hauled into BBC television’s Newsnight studio to explain the perils of headbanging. Some guy with a brain disorder had died while indulging in a bout of neck-snapping – at a Saxon gig, I believe – and heavy metal was to blame, of course. But, quite honestly, the geezer could have just as easily popped his clogs heading a football, colliding with a plate-glass window, or in a public house after he’d nutted a fellow imbiber during a ‘did you spill my pint?’ dispute.
Anyhow, to return to the matter at hand, no one ever seemed to mind the tongue-in-check approach to black metal that we used to take in the golden days of Kerrang!: Tom G Warrior of Celtic Frost was actually delighted when we termed those weird guttural noises he used to make ‘death grunts’; Quorthon of Bathory wasn’t concerned that his lovingly crafted logo actually appeared to spell ‘Batlord’; King Diamond’s microphone stand may have been made of human bones but it was held together by honest-to-goodness gaffa tape; Iron Maiden were actually quite chuffed when we decided to rename their track 666 – The Number Of The Bus; Mantas from Venom recorded an AOR album, for Chrissakes.
But at some point, probably at the beginning of the 1990s – around the time of that Priest trial – the Nordic church burnings erupted, the insane Count Grishnackh began to plague our lives… and it wasn’t particularly amusing any more.
And then – and this is that distant memory I was talking about earlier – I met Dani Filth of Cradle Of Filth. This satanic scumbag arrived in Kerrang!’s reception and demanded to see me, muttering something about the magazine failing to take his band seriously. But what he didn’t realise was we that were just having, as I said, a bit of a larf.
So I went downstairs to meet Dani, and there he was, white-faced and dressed in squeaky black leather, sitting on the couch. In front of him was the coffee table upon which we used to scatter some recent issues of Kerrang! for visitors to read while they were waiting. Mr Filth grinned at me through filed-down pointy teeth, picked up the copies of Kerrang! in front of him and began to rip them methodically to shreds.
Immediately – in the style of Bruce ‘Hulk’ Banner after a gamma ray attack – a red mist descended. I certainly didn’t punch Dani-boy, but I may have dragged him to his feet and shoved him against a wall. I definitely asked him to vacate the building. Later he returned with his cohorts to draw a giant bloody pentagram on the Kerrang! office front door, with the words ‘die, bastard’ in the centre.
I decided to shun graveyards and ruined churches for the foreseeable future, and kipped under my office desk that particular night. While I was getting my sleeping bag into position it was somewhat appropriate, not to say comforting, to discover a dusty old single on the floor that the cleaners had missed.
The seven-inch was by Venom, on the Neat Records label. And I couldn’t help but smile when I saw how they’d misspelled the song title. But it was as it should be. Instead of In League With Satan, the words on the label read: In League With Stan.